18

I would prefer not to cite any specific instances of this. Many of the relevant comments have been deleted, or are hidden in edit histories, and my focus is what I fear may be becoming a systemic issue.

A number of posts have been made that seem to veer away from discussing the specific instances of interpersonal skills asked about in questions, and instead become opportunities for individuals to make a platform railing against political viewpoints that they disagree with.

These answers specifically call out one side or the other using broad, pejorative terminology, such as "Social Justice Warriors" or "the alt-right".

Whenever this occurs, there tends to be an exceptional number of comments, many (most?) of which get deleted.

I have seen multiple comments indicating "fear" that one side or the other is "taking over this site", which apparently indicates that it is "doomed".

Is this problematic? The claim seemingly being made is typically that these broad categories of sociopolitical orientation provide underpinnings within our society that must be addressed in order to properly apply interpersonal skills, but I don't agree with the idea that stereotypes and generalizations based upon political beliefs are helpful when framing interactions.

If these types of answers or commentary are not helpful, how do we deal with them? Flags? Downvotes? Aggressive editing? Standardized comments? Do we remove any references to these terms through deleting comments and editing posts?

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    You might want to fix your example (or just remove it). SJW is always used pejoratively, never as a self-descriptive label. Alt-right on the other hand is a far-right propaganda term; it is self-applied and not used pejoratively (in fact style guides recommend not using it as it just a euphemism for white supremacist). – tim Sep 4 '17 at 12:31
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    @tim yeah, it was a strained comparison, because I'm trying not to let my personal biases make this a partisan issue. However, I don't want to remove reference to SJW, since I have seen it used repeatedly, and feel that's a problem. If you have a suggestion for an edit that would preserve that concern without making this post seem partisan, I'd appreciate it. – Beofett Sep 4 '17 at 12:37
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    I don't think that there is a need for any sort of false balance. There are not two valid and equal "sides" in this issue; there are people who are openly racist and antisemitic, and then there is everybody else who isn't fighting for white supremacy. But if you want to avoid the appearance of partisanship, I would either just remove the example or replace "alt-right" with "Nazi" (which - while sometimes used as a descriptive label and/or self-applied - is sometimes used pejoratively). – tim Sep 4 '17 at 12:52
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    I have to laugh. Someone makes a post asking how to avoid political partisanship ... and someone replies that it's not political partisanship because his side is right and the other side is wrong and evil and despicable. Thank you, Tim, for illustrating exactly what the question is about. – Jay Apr 7 '18 at 20:35
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    @Catija: The original title was so much better than your replacement. Why didn't you just keep it the way the OP wrote it? – user8838 Apr 8 '18 at 0:18
15

I'm writing this answer as a user and a moderator, and I will say that this is the third time I have rewritten this answer. I have three points to make.

  1. I have found that the people who write these answers are, in general, making stuff up. They write forcefully, confidently, almost proudly, as if they know the situation in more detail than any of the participants. They use assumptions, logical leaps, and stereotypes, and end up coming to a conclusion they could have written without reading the questions at all. The point of these answers is not to help people, but to promote a position. The writers abuse the questions as vehicles for promoting their own ideas. They don't help; they hurt.
  2. We've had discussions about how question askers are always a bit biased (see When we see only one side of the story and What distinguishes a true, but negative, description from a judgment? Which are acceptable?). Answerers should aim to be neutral third parties, regardless of the beliefs of the people involved in the situation (unless those beliefs are the source of the problem). They may reach a conclusion that favors one of the people involved (if the question is asking if a person is in the wrong), but that is not a requirement for an answer.
  3. I have said this before, and I will say this again:

    Let me be clear: we're here to answer questions about how to solve interpersonal problems. We are not here to argue about ideologies. Or sling insults at those who disagree with us. Or call people "bigots", "social justice warriors", and all the other pejorative crap I've seen on those threads.

    If you find yourself baiting, insulting, demeaning, or otherwise hurting another person to try to prove a point . . . then you're doing it wrong.

    Let me be clear: There is no such thing as a "social justice warrior". It is a term made up for the express purpose of denigrating those who think a certain way by reducing them to an extremist stereotype and then applying that stereotype everywhere. Trust me. I go to a college filled with people who have been insulted like that. If you ever see those words, someone is not using them neutrally; they are using them to demean someone else.

So, what should be done about these sort of posts? You could argue that they're not written in good faith; I've deleted answers before for that reason. Heck, Politics Stack Exchange closes questions that are written solely to promote a certain position. You could apply the same logic to answers.

The problem is, sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees (I think I used that metaphor correctly). There may very well be a valid point buried somewhere in the crap, and it may well deserve to stay. So here's my proposal:

If you think an answer is written as a platform (as you put it) for someone's beliefs, edit out the parts devoted to proselytizing. Maybe it can be salvaged, maybe it can't. If it can't be fixed, or if there's some other problem (arguments in comments, or an edit war), then flag for mod attention. Vote to delete the post if you really think that is called for.

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    I mostly agree with this... Except for the closing. If the answer can be edited to remove the grandstanding, don't wait for a moderator to do it - fix it ASAP. The longer it sits, the more it stands to detail the entire question. If you're 100% convinced it can't be fixed, then downvote and then flag (as abusive or not an answer, whichever fits). Vote to delete if you can. Mods will pick up the slack for whatever other users cannot, but they're a poor first line of defense. – Shog9 Aug 31 '17 at 3:24
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    For the record, I proudly wear the mantle of 'SJW' because, yes it is a pejorative term, and generally the way to deal with these is to reclaim them. and when the uprising comes I'll be proudly up against the wall with my flaming sword of 'political correctness' – Jesterscup Aug 31 '17 at 11:33
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    Whether or not you "own" the label is kinda irrelevant, @Jesterscup; if a conversation has degraded to the point where we've stopped looking to improve communication and are just applying (or wearing) labels, this site has stopped serving its purpose. – Shog9 Aug 31 '17 at 22:06
  • I don't disagree @Shog9 , and I accept my comment is sheer pedantry. I was perhaps heavy handed with my use of humour in the comment. I was criticising a very minor point, the answer states that if you ever see the term used its being used to demean people, and that's not always the case. and reclaiming a label does not mean you can't be part of an active and healthy discussion – Jesterscup Sep 1 '17 at 12:13
14

Strictly speaking, political opinions have nothing to do with interpersonal skills, but when so many different aspects of human interactions are touched upon in these questions and answers, some will inevitably bring up some controversial social or political issue on which users will have polarized opinions.

From what I read so far it seems more about certain neo-conservative netizens being worried that IPS.SE will become a website with a very progressive and liberal outlook and intolerance will nowhere find expression.

Is that bad, doctor?

My rule of thumb is that a person who is genuinely interested in interpersonal skills and sincerely committed to this site will not take part in such divisive activities.

(1) What moderators should do:

ruthlessly delete nonsense off-topic arguments and inflammatory comments.

(2) What the community should do:

I just need to quote this excellent recent comment by Community Manager Shog9 on a very related meta question here:

There are 2668 users here with the ability to flag-delete comments, spam, and rude or abusive posts; it only takes 3 flags per comment (more if upvoted) and 6 per post. There are 87 users here who can vote to close questions that are generating arguments - it takes no more than 5 votes per question, so they could trivially close every divisive thread posted each day without breaking a sweat. There are 35 users here who can edit any post without needing approval; they can single-handedly remove problematic language… Should they choose to. This site has plenty of mods - it needs more guts. – Shog9♦ 21 hours ago

I am proud and glad to get this opportunity to save this great reminder from @Shog9 permanently here, because a comment can disappear anytime, and we do need to read this once in awhile, to remind ourselves that we are very much empowered to deal with all sorts of nonsense and mischief!

Update: I just read at a reliable website (maybe somewhere on Stack Exchange?) that the term 'Social Justice Warrior' is always used in a prejudiced/ pejorative sense. So no user is expected to use this in a positive sense, the website said.

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    "Social justice warrior" was originally primarily neutral or positive. Its switch to being derogatory was a very recent one. – reirab Sep 7 '17 at 3:11
  • Many thanks @reirab for the link that educated me about the originally positive meaning and history of the term 'Social Justice Warrior' -- it does complicates things, however, because do you think somebody (especially a non-native speaker) might use it positively in this day and age, not realising that it has become a predominantly pejorative usage? – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 14:16
  • It's possible that a non-native speaker might, but I think it's unlikely, since it wasn't an especially common term prior to taking on the negative connotation. – reirab Sep 7 '17 at 14:49
  • Good point, which is a relief, @reirab. – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 16:02
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    I've never heard someone describe themselves as a "social justice warrior", but it's just the "warrior" part that makes it pejorative. Plenty of people call themselves "social justice activists" and similar terms. Like many combinations of words, whether a term is positive or negative often depends more on who is saying it and how than on the words themselves. Personally I've only ever heard the term "alt-right" used as an insult. If there are people who apply that label to themselves, well, okay, if you say so. – Jay Apr 7 '18 at 20:53
  • You are right of course, thanks @Jay. But I was thinking that non-native speakers of English might encounter the term and not understand its controversial connotations; they might think it is a positive description and use it for themselves. – English Student Apr 7 '18 at 21:29
1

It seems obvious to me that posts about how misguided or evil a contrary political viewpoint is are irrelevant to this site and should be promptly deleted. "Aren't members of political party X all evil and despicable?" might or might not be a worthwhile question to discuss, but it is no more relevant here than, say, "Who will win the next Superbowl?" or "How do I find the derivative of a trigonometric function?"

There are valid questions about interpersonal skills that involve politics. A question like, "I am very pro-X [where X is some political position] and my parents are very anti-X. How do we avoid getting into political arguments at family gatherings?" would be relevant. (Probably too general to be a good question, but whatever.)

Questions like, "How do I cope with people who are so evil and despicable that they would vote for Senator Jones?" sound more like a thinly-veiled political statement than an honest question to me, and I would rule them out of bounds.

Granted, there are no doubt borderline cases. Someone could have an essentially fair question about how to deal with people he disagrees with, and he unfortunately frames it in an unnecessarily bellicose fashion. I suppose the best solution to that is to edit the question, to change "disgusting slime-balls who don't deserve to live" to "people I disagree with" or some such.

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